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Deborah Fitzgerald receives lifetime achievement award from the Agricultural History Society

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Deborah K. Fitzgerald, professor of the history of technology in the MIT Program in Science, Technology and Society
Deborah K. Fitzgerald, professor of the history of technology in the MIT Program in Science, Technology and Society
Photo: Donna Coveney

Professor Deborah K. Fitzgerald, former dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (MIT-SHASS), has received the Gladys L. Baker Award from the Agricultural History Society for lifetime achievement in the field of agricultural history.

A professor of the history of technology in the MIT-SHASS Program in Science, Technology, and Society, Fitzgerald was honored for her research, mentorship, and leadership. As the society noted in its award citation, “Her body of research has articulated important themes in the historiography of food and agriculture in twentieth century America.”

Research that illuminates the foundations of modern agriculture and industrialization

The head of MIT-SHASS from 2006 to 2015, Fitzgerald is the author of "The Business of Breeding: Hybrid Corn in Illinois, 1890-1920" (Cornell, 1990), a seminal study of the social, intellectual, structural, and economic foundations of hybrid corn, a product that has had a profound impact on agriculture.

She is also the author of "Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture" (Yale University Press, 2003), which won the Agricultural History Society’s Theodore Saloutos Memorial Award for the best book of the year. In its Baker Award citation, the society noted that Every Farm a Factory “offered a new and provocative understanding of agricultural industrialization.”

Encouraging new scholarly directions

Fitzgerald said, “I was really very moved and honored to receive the Gladys Baker Award. The society was very welcoming to me as a young scholar, and it offered many of us the chance to solidify and grow an organization that has deep historical roots.”

Fitzgerald served as president of the society in 2004-2005, and she initiated the organization’s tradition of holding annual meetings, the first of which took place at MIT in 2006.

In its award citation, the society noted that Fitzgerald “was a central force in the current reinvigoration of the society, to its success in drawing next-generation membership, and in identifying [the Agricultural History Society] with the new interest in agricultural history as it relates to many areas of current interest such as the environment, food, and animal welfare.”

For her part, Fitzgerald said she greatly appreciated the Agricultural History Society’s role in her career. “The society has been very open and encouraging to those of us whose work moves somewhat outside of standard definitions of ‘agricultural history,’ for which I have been very grateful,” she said. “Encouraging new scholarly directions is a hallmark of the society.”

The Agricultural History Society was founded in Washington in 1919 “to promote the interest, study and research in the history of agriculture.” The Gladys L. Baker Award, established in 2009, is named for a past president of the society who was an expert in agricultural policy and history and served as the senior author of A Century of Service: The First 100 Years of the United States Department of Agriculture.

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